She didn’t come out to the car and I got worried so I got out of my car and walked to the door–she stood on the other side. I saw her reach for the lock and that’s when I knew she didn’t know who I was. I knew that if she could hear my voice the pieces would connect for her, and when they did she grabbed me and hugged me tightly. I was there to pick her up for weekly Bible study. She was visibly shaken, she thought somebody was coming to get her and whoever that somebody was didn’t like her. I walked her to the car and held back my tears. I was prepared for the normal “who are you and where we going?” questions but I was not prepared for the terror in her voice and the tears in her eyes as she legitimately thought someone could hate her. This is Bootsie– this is everybody’s mamma.
I’d cued a song on my phone: “I know whom I have believed”. I’d been told she loved the song. I asked her if she recognized it and she told me that she did not but that it did remind her of one of her favorite Bible verses. Terror was replaced by peace evident in her demeanor and tears were replaced by light in her eyes, evident by her gorgeous eyes shining as I’d grown accustomed to seeing.
She rattled off the Bible verse as if it were her name.
2 Timothy 1:12
“For I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep all that I have entrusted to him against that day.”
I was sitting at a stop- light, when the light changed I was too stunned to take my foot off the brake. Just minutes before, she was convinced that someone could hate her. Fast forward and suddenly we were having revival in my car! She repeated the verse a few times and after the third or fourth time I was able to recite it with her. She told me she was afraid that “day” was close for her. The tears returned and I added mine. She told me that she just wanted a little more time and how she wasn’t done here. But she told me that she really believed that He is able to keep all that she’d committed unto Him.
She told me that she had Hope.
My sunglasses hid my tears.
And just like that she asked me where we were going.
One of the very first things I told Crissy when we met is that I thought she had a cool mamma. It wasn’t long before her Mamma became my mamma too. I can’t explain the bond that was created, not in this lifetime anyway. I was 35 years old.
We began noticing her memory fading a few years ago. Many of us noticed at the same time but never really acknowledged it to each other. I couldn’t imagine a God so cruel to take her for me. It was a miracle I attached to her in the first place, as my counselor likes to say, “you shouldn’t be able to do that”. She been more of a mom to me and 20 minutes than my own mother had ever been.
These things, these life events for me, aren’t supposed to happen. My mom wasn’t supposed to leave, but she did. I shouldn’t be able to form that bond with somebody else’s mamma when I was 35 years old, but I did. Her memory wasn’t supposed to fade, but it is. She wasn’t supposed to get Alzheimer’s and yet she did.
October brought with it the craziness that always brings. Work kicks it up a notch and October 2018 was no exception. October is a busy month for writing since it’s domestic violence awareness month and it just happens to always be a horrible month for me.
I’m still a little stunned, if that is even possible. Sometime in late September or early October we got the official Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It was not the run of the mill diagnosis, but rather the most rare, and because of other health issues, it is untreatable.
This hit all of us pretty hard and she began to decline even more rapidly -it seemed- after the doctors gave her sketchy memory an official name. It was as if somebody pulled a smoky screen over the entire world. Nothing was or has been as bright as it was before that day.
We got through October– I still don’t know how- and November was ushered in by an impromptu trip to Nashville to see one of our favorite authors and friends who was nominated for Christy award. That decision to drive 8+ hours to Nashville was the most insane and irresponsible decision ever. The timing could not have been worse from every perspective. I was still fighting the demon on the scale, work was insane and I literally could list 50 more reasons why going to Nashville was a remarkably stupid idea. But Cris kept telling me how she felt strongly that we should go and after a decade of doing life with that girl I just go with her instincts. They have never served me negatively, so to Nashville we went.
Every mile we drove away from home a brought a sense of calming for both of us. I don’t think either of us realized what a pressure cooker our lives had become. Our friend won two Christy awards! I got to meet Jerry Jenkins and Charles Martin and I got to hear Jaimie Jo Wright’s acceptance speech for her debut novel, “House on Foster Hill”. I was close to the stage and I realized she was immediately my people because she had Converse shoes underneath her formal dress!
Crissy, also known as, “The Book Bully” had been telling me that I needed to read Jaime’s novel described as a time slip novel (meh), historical fiction (meh) and creepy (that would be a hard pass). I’d avoided it and was reading “my kind of books”.
But, when I heard Jaimie‘s acceptance speech, I simply could not get to that book fast enough. During her speech, she got lots of laughs off of her powerful one-liners. She talked about being in the foster care system and getting a family, her voice cracked as she thanked them. She talked about a scary health situation with her young daughter and thanked a friend for walking her through that scary time in her life. She talked about the struggle with the perceived solitude in the writing community. After thanking her support team, family and God she said something that stopped me in my tracks.
“Thank you God for giving me a family when I wasn’t supposed to have one”
It was then I realized I had not hit the record button on my phone since Crissy asked me to record her acceptance speech. I was that stunned.
And so I got home and read the book in about six hours. The brilliance of the book forces me to choose my words carefully here because I do not want to give any spoilers.
Two of the characters face extreme difficulties, unimaginable loss, immense sadness and gruesome discoveries. Both characters find themselves in the same place: they could choose to let their lives and their grief overwhelm them or they could use Hope.
When I came to this part of the book I realized I could let the fading memory of a giant in my life become the knockout punch and most people would completely understand that. After all, I was like Jaimie, it would seem, not picked to have a family, yet find myself with one. But, one of the lynch pins of that family that God chose to gave me doesn’t even know who I am sometimes. But Jaime’s words of that Christy acceptance speech captured my heart and I spent some tears in my decision to choose Hope in my deep sadness.
Let me let you in on this foster kids secret: most of us have thought at one time or the other that something is fundamentally wrong with us. Even people like Jaimie who got a family young in life will sometimes feel this way. We simply are not wired for parental rejection.
My heart attached to Mamma Bootsie and those questions were put to rest for the most part. She’d chosen me. And that choice alleviated some of the emotional pain for being abandoned by my own mother. But the place these characters found themselves mirrored that of my own on this day where I experienced the elation of revival in my car and the pain of repeated questions. I could choose Hope or I could choose to worship the gift of her rather than the Giver. I realized that if I chose Hope and the Giver that His memories of me won’t fade, and He always knows my name, as He knew me before the foundation of the world.
Even though most days I choose Hope, I don’t know how many times either of us can handle those rides to morning Bible study. I’m trying to be brave, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. This is a horrible disease and our family covets your prayers, as there have been plenty of tears around here these days. I just try to hang on to that Bible verse and the Hope highlighted by an author I’d never read and who belongs to the same club as I—the one that hit the jackpot and got a family when we weren’t supposed to have one.
When I finished Jaime’s book I knew that Hope was and is out in front of me. Not unlike the characters in the book I have no reason to Hope. My body is still fighting itself, food seems like a bothersome option of my days and the rest of life pressures threaten to take me down.
I will not follow conventional wisdom. I will choose ridiculous, unexplainable Hope because that choice is the only choice that lands me at the feet of my Jesus.
If Mamma could tell you some version of this passage in Jaime’s book, it would sound a little like the beautiful words of this beautiful author who no doubt got these words from her Father. Bootsie can’t tell you her legacy or what she wants it to be, so allow Jaime to do so:
“Someday I will see his face and all of this will wash away. What do I leave behind? What will my legacy be? I choose Hope”
And since I am stealing Jaime’s words, I will continue to do so as these words are a true picture of my broken heart.
“Thank you Lord for giving me a family when I wasn’t supposed to have one.”
When my mom abandoned me all those years ago I never thought I know the unconditional love of a mamma. But I do. Even if she doesn’t remember I will never forget.
I will choose Hope.
Because Jaime, again, captures it beautifully:
“My eyes see beyond today, beyond my circumstances in a world jaded and so scared by sin. I see into heaven and it is beautiful and it is good. It is my future. There is no despair in eternity, in God’s presence, in His perfection. There is Hope. He is my Hope.”
Dear Jesus, help me every day to choose Hope.
Because I won’t only live once.